HID vs LED for Cars – Which is Better?

Both are great options with much better looks, so which one do you pick?

B7 Clear Corner Mod Complete

I have a number of posts on my blog about upgrading your existing halogen bulbs to either HID (Xenon) bulbs for headlights or fog lights, as well as a number of articles on upgrading to LED bulbs for smaller things like DRLs, Reverse Bulbs, and City Lights. A commenter recently asked why I recommend HID vs LED setups depending on the bulb, which is a great question! Both LED and HID headlights have gained popularity in recent years because they offer the appeal of advance technology and high performance, as compared to traditional halogen bulbs. Whereas halogen bulbs more closely resemble the type of household bulbs that you would have at home, both LED and HID headlights use sophisticated technology to light your path. Both are good options for your vehicle, but there are some differences bear noting when choosing between the two. Let’s look at LED vs HID headlights and compare the two options throughout the rest of this post to understand when one option is better than the other.

Benefits of HID Lights

B7 S4 HID Fogs - Before & After

Also known as xenon headlights, HID (or high intensity charge bulbs) feature an arc of electricity created by electricity travelling between two tungsten electrodes inside the bulb, which is filled with xenon gas. The result is a brighter light than you get from a tungsten element alone. To put that into perspective, you can get about 3,000 lumens (a unit measuring the amount of light emitted per second) from an HID bulb, whereas a halogen bulb emits just about half that amount, for a difference of 90 square meters vs. 30 square meters of illumination. That results in better night driving visibility and increased safety, even in bad weather. HID bulbs also use much less energy than halogen bulbs and last much longer than halogen bulbs – 2000 hours of illumination as opposed to just 450. On the downside, HID lights are rather expensive when compared to other types of lights and because they are uniquely shaped, it can be difficult to retrofit an older car with these bulbs.


  • Far brighter light, and a cooler color than halogen
  • Far less energy consumption than halogen
  • Longer lasting that halogen


  • Bigger shape than halogen (may not fit)
  • Needs a projector lens to focus beam or may blind oncoming drivers
  • Requires a ballast to power it (needs room to mount)
  • May need a coding update to your ECU

Benefits of LED lights

LED DRL for B7 Audi A4 & S4

LED bulbs are relatively new on the automotive lighting scene, but they have gained huge popularity in recent years. LEDs are electrical conductors that emit light when they are turned on by way of an electrical circuit. The circuit is either switched on or it is off; these bulbs do not require a heating up period. One of the biggest advantages in favor of LED headlights is that they have very few parts. That means they can be made quite small and can withstand any vibrations and bumps that may occur on rough roads. They, too, consume less energy than halogen bulbs and are very long-lasting, sometimes up to tens of thousands of hours. One of the most popular reasons for choosing LED bulbs is that they come in many different colors of light.


  • Brighter than halogen, but less bright than HID
  • More color options than halogen or HID, option for strobe lighting
  • Less energy consumption than halogen
  • Longer lasting than halogen
  • Smaller, easier to fit shape than HID
  • No ballast required


  • May require resistors to avoid a “bulb out” error on dash
  • Light does not project as far

Using LEDs for the main headlight beam

I was recently encouraged by a blog reader to reconsider my stance on LEDs as a main headlight beam…LEDs have come a long way since I originally wrote this, and more and more options are on the market making LEDs worth reconsidering for your high or low beam headlight bulbs. I picked up a kit on Amazon for roughly $32 that had great reviews, so I went for it. My previous opinion was that LEDs didn’t work well for high/low headlight beams because they didn’t throw light far enough…but like I said, the technology has come a long way since the cheapo LED bulbs of the past, and manufacturers are now specifically designing LED bulbs intended to be used for the high/low beam bulbs for your car.

The LEDs I picked up for my wife’s Ford Focus have built in fans to keep them cool, making them a lot larger than the halogen bulbs that came with the car. Despite the added size, they fit inside the housings just fine, although I had to poke some holes in the dust boots so they don’t overheat. After driving around with them for a little bit, they don’t seem to be getting too hot to be concerned although you can hear the fans running which is a little unusual at first. There is no need for a ballast like HIDs which is nice, they just plug into the OEM wiring and you’re good to go. Install is a breeze, and the color is very similar to HIDs giving you that same european/luxury look.

I knew they’d look good in the housing (like all LEDs do), but I was happy that the light output was great too. My wife’s Ford Focus doesn’t have projector beams, but despite that the light still travels pretty well with a decent enough cut-off not to blind anyone. I think HIDs still throw the light just a bit further (especially with a good projector lens), but I think the LEDs throw light just as far as the halogens and also illuminate that field of vision better, so net-net it’s a huge upgrade from your OEM halogen bulbs.

When to Pick HID over LED?

LED DRLs in B7 Headlights

LEDs are cheaper, smaller, don’t need a special ballast or projector lens, and have more color options, which makes them the ideal choice for replacing smaller bulbs like turn signals, reverse lights, or reverse lights…but for lights that you need a longer field of vision, like your headlights, fog lights, or a separate spot light (i.e. on a roof or separate light rail) it’s a closer race. The price of LED bulbs versus HID kits is about the same now, making price no longer a concern. If you want something simple, the LED kit needs no external ballasts and can be plug & play – so keep it simple. The HID kits are still my preference for high/low beam if you have a projector lens to focus the super intense light of HIDs, but without the projector lens I’d recommend going with LED bulbs instead.

What LED or HID Kit to Buy?

Both LED and HID kits are about the same price, around $30-40 on Amazon with free Prime shipping. There are more expensive kits out there for both LED and HID, but I’ve used both kits at the $30 price range and never had issues. My preferred brands are XENTEC for HID and LASFIT for LED. You can find (affiliate) links to these kits below, simply select the right bulb size you need (whatever the OEM bulb is that you’re replacing) and select the color for the HID (4,300K is stock, anything higher is more blue in color – I like 6,000).

TL;DR – LEDs are great for nearly any bulb. Stick with HIDs if your car has a projector lens to focus the intense light of HIDs, choose LEDs if you’re upgrading from halogens and don’t have a projector lens.

Nick Roshon

Nick has been an Audi owner and fanatic for the last 10 years, and started Nick's Car Blog in 2009 to share DIYs and pictures of his A4. Currently he drives a 2012 Audi TT-RS, and has previously owned a B7 S4, B7 A4, and an 82 Audi Coupe (GT) LeMons race car. In his day job, Nick is a digital marketer and lives in San Diego, CA, USA.


  1. Hey nick I have a b7 a4 2.0t and the dealer says that I have the upper booster leak on the turbo to fix it they told me is 2500 to replace the turbo any recommendations to fix that problem with out cost me a leg and arm thanks

  2. Hi Grover – I’d start by finding an independent Audi/VW mechanic to both get a second opinion, as well as a second price quote. “Upper booster leak” isn’t something I’ve heard before, but it’s possible that the turbo isn’t bad and its just a component – if not, you can usually get a rebuilt turbo for cheaper, or if you’re going to spend that kind of money on it, you might want to consider a K04 or JHM Big Turbo upgrade:

  3. My car is using HID bulbs for headlights and fog lights, but using halogen bulbs for turn signals. I guess I should replace turn signals with LED bulbs. Thanks for your valuable information!

  4. For me, me LEDs on my S3 look cheap and not as expensive. I feel like they look like a common Kia coming down the road. I don’t know if that is because I am so use to HID or Xenons being the “luxury” look or not. But, that is just my opinion. They are much “whiter”, but feel cheaper–even though there is an uncharge for that package. Any thoughts?

  5. I haven’t had any luck doing LEDs in the turn signal bulbs on my car, the Audi/VW system is really finicky about those for some reason…but worth a shot, just not sure what resistors to advise.

  6. The ballasts get hotter than the bulbs, the bulbs are pretty reasonable. Make sure the ballasts are mounted somewhere appropriate, but bulb to bulb it should be fine…

  7. Right now where I live the regulations are very harsh about HID lights so my default is go for LED lights… but I like the pros and cons comparison you made, very illustrative.

  8. In my fog lights….I thought the yellow or orange like light color would be better for fog or snow. Bright white lights does not do well in Foggy weather, in my driving experience. That is why my head lights does not work as well as my fog lights.

  9. Thanks for the article, Nick. A little silly but, you really would go HID for headlights (since it sounds like you feel like look more … expensive and have a longer view distance)? And maybe LEDs for fog lamps? – We just bought a Mini convertible for my wife.

  10. Thinking about installing HIDs in my ’10 genesis coupe. Because of the beam difference, is the projector something that can be bought and given to the person installing the lights or what is that about…I know halogen bulbs normally have their own housing, so how much will HIDs affect that?

  11. I’d go HIDs for headlights definitely. For fog lights I’d probably still go HID – the LEDs don’t really project the light a very far distance, they’re better suited for DRLs, turn signals, etc…unless you get an aftermarket housing and LED that is high powered and meant for fog light use, of course.

  12. Hey Nick, you need to re-do this write up! I have LED bulbs that are plug and play with heat dissipating fans that plug into my factory headlights of my GMC Canyon and they are the best light output of anything I have ever driven and the color is perfect crisp blue/white. Still no way to convert factory HID to LED which is a bummer but I plan to swap my factory B6 D1S headlights for some DEPO H7 Halogen units just so I can run the LED bulbs I have in my truck! They are outstanding and quality has been good so far. I paid $28 for a pair of low beam bulbs for my truck and they are absolutely fantastic! Not to mention when you turn on the lights, they are instant full brightness. I would come back and revise your write up and test out these bulbs on a halogen B7

  13. hi nick..i had install after market hid kit with oem xenon headlight assembly that has d1s bulb and d1s ballast..i had halogen originally on my car …one of mechanic friend installed that after market hid kit with hid relay harness wiring…so that way i have d1s bulb and d1s ballast…now do u think i can hook up d1s LED to that hid relay harness wiring..cause i saw the connector ends on hid harness that goes to my d1s ballast is the same that connect end to LED …might fit but not sure

  14. hi nick roshon bmw e34 headlight are a little bit dim , what is your suggestion for a better vision , xenons or led ?

  15. You really should revisit this blog. I’ve installed LED low beams and fog lights on my wife’s 05 Acura MDX. OMG the light output is amazing. I’ve also installed H11 led fog lights on my 12 A4 6000k. They match my HID headlights and led driving lights perfectly.

  16. Hi Jason, got some pictures you can provide? A little more info? I’d be happy to update this post…you are right that a lot has changed since I originally wrote it. I have not tried LEDs in high or low beam myself yet.

  17. Nick

    Just came across your post. I have a 2014 VW Passat and I’m looking to replace my bulbs. I’ve had places say they can’t do LED but they can do HID instead. I know VW are finicky what do you recommend? HID installed is $250, LED $350. Price doesn’t matter so much just don’t want to have an issue with this VW

  18. Hi Ryan – assuming you have halogen bulbs currently, the main challenge is that your factory headlight housings do not have a projector to focus the light discharge of a LED or HID, so either way it will likely blind oncoming traffic / look like you have your brights on all of the time. If I had to choose, I’d stick with HID for the main bulb (high/low beams) and LED for everything else.

    Another option is to consider upgrading the headlight housings themselves. This option looks interesting – it includes projectors to focus the light better, and should be plug and play – it also gives you cool LED DRLs. It looks like it doesn’t come out until April, but if you’re upgrading just for fun, perhaps you can hold out?

  19. I’m assuming the prices by the OP are mostly installation quotes, and he’s quoting those costs because he doesn’t want to DIY, but yes, easy to get either cheaper. I’ve read up on a bunch of reviews on LED in main bulb and still cannot recommend them, the beam does not throw nearly as far and seems like a safety hazard…especially if you don’t have housing thats are intended to use LED bulbs. To each their own.

  20. Nick, I’ll be more than happy to send you some information. Maybe this weekend when I’ll have mote free time. Also the above post was meant for Ryan, sorry for the confusion. You also brought up a great point on the reflector housing. I auto assume (my bad) that 99% of newer cars uses projectors now.

  21. You’ve actually given me some inspiration here – I’m going to order a set for my wife’s 2014 Ford Focus and judge for myself, then update the post good/bad with my thoughts…that’s the whole point of this blog in the first place. Searching on Amazon now 🙂

  22. Nick, i decided on Lasfit brand. I purchased H11 for my fog lights in the B8 A4 and my wife’s 05 MDX (low beams). I also purchased the fog light bulbs for her MDX after she expressed so much love for her nee low beams. Search YouTube for (lasfit led headlight). Tons of information available. One other thing is to make sure of the bulb position in the housing. You may need to buy adjustable led if the headlight housing offsets your bulb 45° a standard non adjustable is fine otherwise.

  23. Hi Nick. I would appreciate your suggestion for Audi A4 B6 currently using halogen bulbs. What is the best choice for headlights? HID or LED and what specs; e.g. lumens, wats, etc. I think it has b xenon projectors. Thanks much

  24. Hi – The B6 A4 uses H7 bulbs. I’d go with xenons if it were me, although some people really like LEDs and the bulbs have improved a lot. I’d recommend 4300k if you want a more stock look, and 6000k if you want something a little bluer. I’ve had good luck with Kensun kits before:

  25. Thanks Nick. I will try HIDs then. I was not sure because someone told me that LEDs don’t do well in these projectors and that is why I was not clear what to go for. Cheers

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